‘Queer Eye’ season 2 packs emotional punches, struggles to overcome mainstream boundaries

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Grade: 3.0/5.0

What do a devout schoolteacher, a Walmart employee and an 18-year-old musician have in common? Two things: They all live in Georgia, and they all underwent lifestyle makeovers by a group of five queer men in season two of Netflix’s “Queer Eye.”

Following the first season’s format, the Fab Five complete eight more makeovers. As is to be expected — considering the episodes were filmed together — the second season is fairly consistent with the first. Antoni Porowski, Tan France, Karamo Brown, Bobby Berk and Jonathan Van Ness are as endearing and on-beat as ever, with their incredible friendship and group dynamic remaining one of the principal highlights of the show.

That five openly queer men have gone mainstream, amassing millions of followers on social media and bringing awareness to the plight of the LGBTQ+ community, is still something to relish in 2018. Unafraid to be open about their sexualities and lifestyles, the Fab Five quickly established themselves as cultural icons.

However, the new season is just a continuation of the first season. That it was still set in the same state and still mainly focused on making over straight men took most of the original installment’s magic away.

“Queer Eye,” at its core, is gimmicky and predictable — that’s just the reality of reality television. In this series, straight guys are a mess and queer guys are here to save the day. Jonathan blows everyone’s minds with his hairdressing skills, Tan leaves everyone shook with his fabulous outfit choices, Karamo turns everyone’s life perspective upside down, Bobby makes everyone cry with his home design skills and Antoni makes everyone’s life easier with fast, simple recipes.

But we have to consider what the purpose of a reboot is: to make the original better. The first “Queer Eye” (2003-2007) was named “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” before it was shortened to be more inclusive. Yet it was always a metropolitan show, and the only person of color in the original Fab Five was Jai Rodriguez, of Puerto Rican and Italian ancestry.

“Queer Eye,” in its updated form, has a defined mission: fighting for acceptance. Despite the clear pushes for more diversity, “Queer Eye” is trying too hard to preserve the heart of the original show by tiptoeing around radical change and continuing to focus the bulk of its makeovers on straight cis men.

Of the 16 individuals visited by the new Fab Five, only two are not straight men. Only six are people of color. Only one is a woman. Only one is a transgender man.

And when the show makes an effort to increase diversity, it achieves greatness. This was proven by the two overall best episodes of the series thus far: Season one, episode four features AJ Brown, a gay man, and season two, episode five features Skyler, a transgender man.

Skyler in particular steals the show in season two. In his episode, he doesn’t shy away from honestly discussing what it means to be transgender in his personal life and in society. The Fab Five gets real, with Tan opening up about his previous problematic perception of transgender people and how he reevaluated his opinion. It is a tender, bold and eye-opening episode — and it’s exactly what mainstream audiences need if we want unconditional acceptance of LGBTQ+ people to become mainstream.

When one or two makeovers for members of the LGBTQ+ community are simply sprinkled in, the line between advocacy and tokenism becomes blurred. This is a mainstream reality show premiering on a mainstream platform, and that means that “too much queerness” will inevitably be deemed a problem. When the five stars are queer men, the network will always choose to balance them out with straight, cis male clients.

As the show gets over the “testing the waters” stage, all that’s left is the hope that upcoming seasons will fly their pride flags even higher. Societal boundaries will always be in place. These won’t change anytime soon, and it’s up to “Queer Eye” now to defy them.

After all, this is a show with a name that openly defies the negative connotations of a decades-old slur. Becoming more queer, more radical and more unapologetic of diversity shouldn’t be an issue.

Alex Jiménez covers LGBTQ+ media. Contact her at [email protected].

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